The Earth’s natural ecosystems and physical environment in which communities live are rapidly deteriorating and, in turn, increasing the risk of premature morbidity and mortality of people worldwide. Hydrometeorological hazards are concentrating contaminants from the damaged environment and exposing large populations of vulnerable people to serious health and life threatening diseases. This study performed a retrospective health risk assessment on two recent disaster events where such impacts unfolded, namely the 2015 south east Equatorial Asia smoke haze disaster and the 2016 Melbourne thunderstorm asthma epidemic. The primary objective was to test if the characterisation of health risk warranted earlier and more effective risk reduction activities prior to the disasters occurring.
The study used a two stage process to perform a retrospective health risk characterisation assessment. Using the framework developed by UNDRR Health Aspect in Disaster Risk Assessment (2017), a thematic and targeted word literature review was performed to identify the level of risk knowledge prior to each event. A risk characterisation matrix was then developed and applied to characterise the health risk of each hazard event. The 2015 south east Equatorial Asia smoke haze disaster risk assessment was characterised as an ‘extreme’ health risk and the 2016 Melbourne thunderstorm asthma epidemic was characterised as a ‘high’ health risk.
Reaching the goals of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 requires strategies and plans to urgently address the catastrophic level of premature mortality risk posed by exposure to environmental contaminants and conditions. Innovative approaches and partnerships are necessary to mitigate the risk from the deteriorating health of the environment and natural ecosystems, along with disaster risk response initiatives that eliminate or reduce exposure of vulnerable people to these contaminants on a large scale.
This paper is a contribution to the 2019 edition of the Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction (GAR 2019).
To cite this paper:
Finnigan, G. The natural environment as a disaster hazard—the growing global health threat. Contributing Paper to GAR 2019